Lawmakers consider disclosure law for call center closures

Lawmakers consider disclosure law for call center closures

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Lawmakers are considering a bill aimed at improving notice whenever a company wants to close some or all of its call center operations in Connecticut. 

The legislation, proposed in response to incidents like AT&T’s recent decision to move operations from Meriden to other states, would require 100 days’ notice and carry penalties upwards of $10,000 per day for noncompliance. 

It would also make a call center that closes a substantial part or all of its Connecticut operation ineligible for state aid or incentives for five years. 

Opponents, including Republicans and business owners, warn the bill would fuel the state’s anti-business reputation and deter companies from moving to Connecticut in the first place. They also say federal rules already require 60 days’ notice.  

The bill cleared the legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee by a 9-4 party line vote Thursday. 

Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, co-chair of the Labor committee, said the bill comes in response to AT&T’s announcement last month that it is closing three call centers in Meriden, eliminating up to 89 jobs, including 911 technicians. 

“That really rubbed me the wrong way because AT&T was a huge beneficiary of the federal government tax cut and promised to create jobs …,” she said Friday. “Instead what we see them doing is eliminating really good jobs in our state.” 

Kushner said the bill would result in more awareness, which could give the state or host communities the chance to try and retain call centers. 

AT&T did offer bonuses to employees willing to move, but Connecticut AFL-CIO President Sal Luciano, in his written testimony, called the closures “a destabilizing move for employees and their families and also devastating to the local economy.” 

The bill would apply to any call center employing 50 full time employees and trigger a notice requirement when a company plans to move enough jobs to handle at least 30 percent of a center’s call volume the prior 12 months. 

Companies who fail to comply would be subject to a fine of as high as $10,000 per day. 

The Department of Labor would also publish the list. Companies on the list couldn’t receive any state incentives or aid for five years for any remaining operations, and could have to pay back benefits received in the previous five. 

The labor commissioner would have the discretion to waive fines and other payments if imposing penalties could harm the environment, threaten state or national security, or result in “substantial job loss” in Connecticut. 

Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, and also on the Labor committee, said he didn’t see a need for the bill because federal law already requires 60 days’ notice. 

“Federal law has already gone into this area and, time and time again, I see out of our … a bill that expands something — certainly this is not a pro-business bill,” he said. 

Businesses said the bill would make Connecticut seem unfriendly to business because it expands upon federal requirements. 

“Businesses need the flexibility to move operations to address changing market or economic conditions,” said Eric Gjede, vice president of government affairs with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. He warned the expanded requirement could deter companies from moving to Connecticut at all. 

Kushner said she wants Connecticut to be attractive to businesses, but thinks the state should be targeting companies that want to be here long-term. 

“Unless you’re looking to come here for a couple years, grab a tax break and move away, this shouldn’t deter you,” she said. 

Fishbein said he did support the language in the bill requiring call centers to return state incentives if they then move within five years. He also said he would be supportive of the notification requirements if they applied only to companies receiving aid from the state. 

“We are of a belief that if you take from government to prop up your business, you come under different rules,” he said about the Conservative Caucus.
Twitter: @reporter_savino

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